Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit with US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday was a baptism of fire for the new premier. What emerged from the meeting is that Obama's priorities regarding Iran, Israel and the Arab world are diametrically opposed to Israel's priorities.
During his ad hoc press conference with Netanyahu, Obama made clear that he will not lift a finger to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. And acting as Obama's surrogate, for the past two weeks CIA Director Leon Panetta has made clear that Obama expects Israel to also sit on its thumbs as Iran develops the means to destroy it.
Obama showed his hand on Iran in three ways. First, he set a nonbinding timetable of seven months for his policy of appeasement and engagement of the ayatollahs to work. That policy, he explained, will only be implemented after next month's Iranian presidential elections. And those direct US-Iranian talks must be given at least six months to show results before they can be assessed as successful or failed.
But Israel's Military Intelligence has assessed that six months may be too long to wait. By the end of the year, Iran's nuclear program may be unstoppable. And Iran's successful test of its solid fuel Sejil-2 missile with a 2,000 kilometer range on Wednesday merely served to show the urgency of the situation. Obviously the mullahs are not waiting for Obama to convince them of the error of their ways.
Beyond the fact that Obama's nonbinding timeline is too long, there is his "or else." Obama made clear that in the event that in December or January he concludes that the Iranians are not negotiating in good faith, the most radical step he will be willing to take will be to consider escalating international sanctions against Teheran. In the meantime, at his urging, Congressman Howard Berman, chairman of the House International Affairs Committee, has set aside a bill requiring sanctions against oil companies that export refined fuel into Iran.
Finally there was Obama's contention that the best way for the US to convince Iran to give up its nuclear program is by convincing Israel to give away more land to the Palestinians. As Obama put it, "To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat." This statement encapsulates the basic lack of seriousness and fundamental mendacity of Obama's approach to "dealing with a potential Iranian threat."
Iran has made clear that it wants Israel destroyed. The mullahs don't care how big Israel is. Their missiles are pointing at Tel Aviv, not Beit El. As for the international community, the Russians and Chinese have not been assisting Iran's nuclear and missile programs for the past 15 years because there is no Palestinian state. They have been assisting Iran because they think a strong Iran weakens the US. And they are right.
The Arab states, for their part, are already openly siding with Israel against Iran. The establishment of a Palestinian state will not make their support for action to prevent Iran from acquiring the means to dominate the region any more profound.
On the face of it, Obama's obsessive push for a Palestinian state makes little sense. The Palestinians are hopelessly divided. It is not simply that Hamas rules the Gaza Strip and Fatah controls Judea and Samaria. Fatah itself is riven by division. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's appointment of the new PA government under Salaam Fayad was overwhelmingly rejected by Fatah leaders. Quite simply, there is no coherent Palestinian leadership that is either willing or capable of reaching an accord with Israel.
As for the prospects for peace itself, given that there is little distinction between the anti-Semitic bilge broadcast daily in Gaza by Hamas-controlled media, and the anti-Semitic bilge broadcast daily in Judea and Samaria by the Fatah/Abbas/Fayad-controlled media, those prospects aren't looking particularly attractive. That across-the-board anti-Semitic incitement has engendered the current situation where Hamas and Fatah members and supporters are firmly united in their desire to see Israel destroyed. This was made clear on Thursday morning when a Fatah policeman in Kalkilya used his US-provided rifle to open fire on IDF soldiers engaged in a counterterror operation in the city.
Given that the establishment of a Palestinian state will have no impact on Iran's nuclear program, and in light of the fact that under the present circumstances any Palestinian state will be at war with Israel, and assuming that Obama is not completely ignorant of the situation on the ground, there is only one reasonable explanation for his urgent desire to force Israel to support the creation of a Palestinian state and to work for its establishment by expelling hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes. Quite simply, it is a way to divert attention away from Obama's acquiescence to Iran's nuclear aspirations.
BY MAKING the achievement of the unachievable goal of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians through the establishment of a Palestinian terror state the centerpiece of his Middle East agenda, Obama is able to cast Israel as the region's villain. This aim is reflected in the administration's intensifying pressure on Israel to destroy Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria.
In portraying Jews who live in mobile homes on barren hilltops in Judea and Samaria - rather than Iranian mullahs who test ballistic missile while enriching uranium and inciting genocide - as the greatest obstacle to peace, the Obama administration not only seeks to deflect attention away from its refusal to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is also setting Israel up as the fall guy who it will blame after Iran emerges as a nuclear power.
Obama's intention to unveil his Middle East peace plan in the course of his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, like his decision to opt out of visiting Israel in favor of visiting a Nazi death camp, make it clear that he does not perceive Israel as a vital ally, or even as a partner in the peace process he wishes to initiate. Israeli officials were not consulted about his plan. Then, too, from the emerging contours of his plan, it is clear that he will be offering something that no Israeli government can accept.
According to media reports, Obama's plan will require Israel to withdraw its citizens and its military to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines. It will provide for the free immigration of millions of Israel-hating Arabs to the Palestinian state. And it seeks to represent all of this as in accord with Israel's interests by claiming that after Israel renders itself indefensible, all 57 members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (including Iran) will "normalize" their relations with Israel. In short, Obama is using his peace plan to castigate the Netanyahu government as the chief destabilizing force in the region.
During his meeting with Obama, Netanyahu succeeded in evading the policy traps Obama set for him. Netanyahu reserved Israel's right to act independently against Iran and he conceded nothing substantive on the Palestinian issue.
While itself no small achievement, Netanyahu's successful deflection of Obama's provocations is not a sustainable strategy. Already on Tuesday the administration began coercing Israel to toe its line on Iran and the Palestinians by engaging it in joint "working groups."
Then, too, the government's destruction of an outpost community in Judea on Thursday was perceived as Israeli buckling to US pressure. And it doubtlessly raised expectations for further expulsions in the near future.
SO WHAT must Netanyahu do? What would a strategy to contain the Obama administration's pressure and maintain international attention on Iran look like?
Under the present circumstances, the Netanyahu government's best bet is to introduce its own peace plan to mitigate the impact of Obama's plan. To blunt the impact of Obama's speech in Cairo, Netanyahu should present his peace plan before June 4.
Such a plan should contain three stages. First, in light of the Arab world's apparent willingness to engage with Israel, Netanyahu should call for the opening of direct talks between Israel and the Arab League, or between Israel and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, regarding the immediate normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab-Islamic world. Both Obama and Jordan's King Abdullah claim that such normalization is in the offing. Israel should insist that it begin without delay.
This, of course, is necessary for peace to emerge with the Palestinians. As we saw at Camp David in 2000, the only way that Palestinian leaders will feel comfortable making peace with Israel is if the Arab world first demonstrates its acceptance of the Jewish state as a permanent feature on the Middle East's landscape. Claims that such an Israeli demand is a mere tactic to buy time can be easily brushed off. Given Jordanian and American claims that the Arab world is willing to accept Israel, once negotiations begin, this stage could be completed in a matter of months.
The second stage of the Israeli peace plan would involve Israel and the Arab world agreeing and beginning to implement a joint program for combating terrorism. This program would involve destroying terror networks, cutting off funding for terror networks and agreeing to arrest terrorists and extradite them to The Hague or the US for trial. It should be abundantly clear to all governments in the region that there can be no long-term regional peace or stability as long as terrorists bent on destroying Israel and overthrowing moderate Arab regimes are allowed to operate. So making the implementation of such a join program a precondition for further progress shouldn't pose an obstacle to peace. Indeed, there is no reason for it to even be perceived as particularly controversial.
The final stage of the Israeli peace plan should be the negotiation of a final-status accord with the Palestinians. Only after the Arab world has accepted Israel, and only after it has agreed to join Israel in achieving the common goal of a terror-free Middle East, can there be any chance that the Palestinians will feel comfortable and free to peacefully coexist with Israel. And Israel, of course, will feel much more confident about living at peace with the Palestinians after the Arab world demonstrates its good faith and friendship to the Jewish state and its people.
Were Netanyahu to offer this plan in the next two weeks, he would be able to elude Obama's trap on June 4 by proposing to discuss both plans with the Arab League. In so doing, he would be able to continue to make the case that Iran is the gravest danger to the region without being demonized as a destabilizing force and an enemy of peace.
Whether Netanyahu advances such a peace plan or not, what became obvious this week is that his greatest challenges in office will be to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons while preventing the Obama administration from blaming Israel for the absence of peace.